"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Monday, July 30, 2012

iPad vs. Kindle Fire

This post is for Sherrylynne and Margaret.

UPDATE:  I've been told that this is too long to read by members of my family.  They're beautifully honest and I'm not bothered by the feedback.  Here's a tip.  If you don't want to slog through my narrative, scroll down to the bottom for a handy little table where I scored the iPad and the Kindle Fire on features I felt were important.

I have a problem with technology.  The problem is that I love it and so does my husband, which tends to make us fairly "early adopters."  That means we tend to be ahead of the curve when new technology comes out to the public.

I have had several people ask me to explain the differences between an iPad and a Kindle Fire with respect to homeschool use.  So here goes.

Oh, and for the record, before children, I was, ahem, a UNIX snob.  I disdained PC's and Macs even more!  For a long time, I had a New Hampshire state automobile license plate.  The state motto "Live Free or Die" was on the top and the license plate said "UNIX."  That was how seriously I loved UNIX.  All other operating systems were chopped liver to me.  I loved it so much, I created a Post Secondary Degree program around a version of UNIX I loved.  A Technical School actually paid me to develop the curriculum and teach that Degree Program for three years.  Then I quit because I was pregnant with my third child.  I taught up until two days before she was born.  But I digress...

So, we had a Kindle here fairly early on mainly because my husband got his hands on an ebook back in 2004, before they actually were available on the market when he managed a product testing lab for a major consumer electronics retailer.  We all fell in love with it, but there were so few books available at that time, it was not viable as a product when there was no materials to read on the device.  So we loved the Kindle.  My three eldest children have used the Kindle before we purchased the iPad.  I have reservations about even the regular Kindle.  Here are the reservations:  There are no parental controls.  None.  They have a "experimental browser" that is horrible to navigate, but there are no controls to prevent accessing unsavory web sites.  Also, many "free books" at Amazon available are not suitable for children.

When the first iPad came out, we were not quick to jump.  It was, after all, an Apple product (horror of horrors!)  All it took was a visit to the Apple store at the Mall of America to quickly change my mind.  While Angry Birds did have appeal (I swear that must be how they get most people hooked), what really did it for me was the number of free and low cost apps available.  Apple totally understands how to make a product appealing, doesn't it?  We didn't have the funds to get one as soon as we would like as our technology budget has dwindled to practically nothing since braces hit our house.  Three kids have some type of orthodontia!

It wasn't until about six months after their release that I got a refurbished first generation iPad.  Being that I needed to do "research" I got to use it the most the first week we had it.  I learned how to use iTunes and played with setting up parental controls.  Then, I went in search of apps.  Did you know there are over 500,000 apps in the Apple Apps Store?  So, cheapo that I am, I downloaded free apps first, just to see what was out there.  Even the free apps are great.   Many free apps are there to tease you, get you excited so you'll purchase their full version.  The iPad because so useful in our homeschool, that seven months later, we invested in another refurbished first generation iPad.  A month later, I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas.   When I did some work this Spring, I opted to use the money I made to purchase an iPad 2 with 3G.  So, I set out to try to use the Kindle Fire the same way we had been using the iPad, which I will outline next. 

Each day, my kids are required to do some school activities on their own, even my younger kids.  It's not like I'm some great mom. In fact it is the opposite.  There often isn't enough of me to go around quizzing flashcards and the like, so we've used the iPad for much of that type of activity.  We started out using the iPad just for educational games. Then we branched out to using it for actual school.  Here are some of the things we did with the iPad:
  • Used the free Kindle App to read CK-12 textbooks
  • Practiced Math Facts via many different apps
  • Learned States and Capitols
  • Learned Countries and History
  • Followed the Church Calendar, read Saint-of-the-day biographies and daily readings
  • Practiced cursive
  • Praciced Phonics
  • Did Spelling tests and played apps that improved vocabulary
  • Listened to Audio books
  • Watched some Khan Academy content
  • Used apps that help with memory, concentration and attention
  • Read Google books and iBooks
I knew I was not using it to its full potential, but even at that level, it was helping my kids enjoy drills.  I'm now totally fascinated with the concept of Game Theory.  I loved doing games in my homeschool, but this took me out of the picture. 

So, element by element, I will take you through the features that are important for me as a Catholic homeschool mom of six.

First and foremost is parental controls.  I love Apple's approach to restrictions.  It's actually pretty granular.  I can first put on a screen lock to prevent access to the device.  Period.  Next, I can set up restrictions by app type.  For example, I can turn off the web browser Safari, which I do, and then decided to allow access to Youtube, Camera and Facetime for second generation and newer, iTunes, Ping, Installing and Deleting Apps.  Further, I disable location services, change the level of allowed content for Music and Podcasts, Movies, TV Shows, and Apps.  I can also disable In-App Purchases, which I recommend, disable Multiplayer Games and Adding Friends.  My older children have iPod touches because we've now exceeded the demand for the iPads.  Their age restrictions are different on their iPod touches than on the iPads.  The Kindle Fire handles parental controls differently.  First of all, they didn't add them until people screamed to them about it.  They were finally added in May.  Like Apple, there is a screen lock to prevent access to the device.  However, their interface is not as seamless as Apples.  Like Apple, the Settings feature has many choices.  All apps, books, video, etc, is accessible from the "Carousel" on the home page.  When you go into the Parental Controls, you may disable web access, therefore turning off browsing, apps and book purchases and downloads.  However, there is no way to limit access to certain apps.  Now, here's a disclaimer.  I have a personal bias against how Amazon decided to do their interface.  I have an extreme dislike for the Carousel.  Everything is accessed from the Carousel.  Above the Carousel is a selection of functions like:  Newstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, Web.  If parental controls are set, the user will get a pop-up saying the feature is disabled.  I find the Settings Interface more cludge-y than the iPad, so I don't care to mess around much with the Apps.  One thing I will point out.  I will allow use of Safari for a school project if my kids ask, but I won't for the Kindle Fire because I have figured out how to set up OpenDNS on the iPad, but not on the Kindle Fire.  I also find the pinch and squeeze is less receptive on the Kindle than the iPad, so inputting data is not nearly as easy.  One last thing, I promise.  There is a Kindle Fire app called Kid's Place that allows me to set a timer and select which apps are used.

I've already mentioned cost.  On the whole, I'm not afraid to purchase refurbished items.  It's like buying a used car versus a new one.  I compared the costs below, but used only new prices because refurbished prices vary wildly.

I've already mentioned Apps.  There are many Android apps, but there are not many great Education Apps.  The Android platform is really intended for smartphones.  Tablets started using the Android platform as an afterthought.  I have not found much I would use for my older kids other than things like SAT prep apps.

Both devices have the Kindle Reader, which is my favorite interface for books.

The Kindle Reader, however, does not readily support ePub.  That is an issue for me with because I often check out books from the public library.  Their supported format is ePub via the OverDrive application.  Apparently it can be done, but I just haven't gone there yet.

Both devices are great for video and audio playback.  However, the Kindle Fire lost a point because it doesn't have a physical volume button like the iPad.

I love having a camera on the iPad 2.  Married with the 3G capability, I can go places like Oliver Kelly Farm, a historic farm and take pictures or video and mail it right away or Skype with someone to show them something cool. I can also do online classes.  I teach several classes to kids other than my own and we use Skype.  I can do it from anywhere now.

I love the Kindle Fire's form factor.  The iPad is roughly the size of a sheet of paper.  The Kindle Fire is roughly that of a large greeting card (or about a half a sheet of paper.)  However, the Kindle is thicker than the iPad.  The Kindle Fire weighs  almost 15 ounces and the iPad weighs in at about 21 ounces.

From a stability perspective, the iPad has never crashed and it's used often.  The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, has had several occasions where it has frozen up so badly I've had to contact customer service.

My iPads have held their battery charge through about 8 hours of use.  We do a lot to try and conserve that battery life like turning off Wi-Fi by putting it in Airplane Mode, dimming the screen and disabling  a lot of the sounds/alerts.  The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, has an advertised battery life of 8 hours, but we are lucky to get six.  We disable the Wi-Fi there as well, but that hasn't bought us much for battery life.

The iPad storage capacity starts at 16GB and goes up to 64GB.  The Kindle Fire only has 8GB.  Now, that being said, you won't use that space up until you have had lots and lots of books and memory stored on it.  It can go quickly on the iPad if the iPad has a camera.

Here's a little table I put together scoring the features.  I multiplied each * by the weight.  So, if the weight is 10, three stars means the device scored 30 points.  I added them up for you at the bottom.

Please feel free to comment and give my your experiences because I am basing mine totally on the use in our homeschool.

Feature (weight)
Kindle Fire
Built-in Parental Controls (10 x *)
Cost NEW (10)
(Remember I buy refurbished!)
Educational Apps (10)
Kindle Reader (10)
ePub Reader (8)
Video and audio playback (8)
Camera (for things like Skype) (5)
(2nd Generation)

Form factor (5)
Stability – crashes, locks, updates, etc.  (5)
Battery Life (5)
Storage (5)
(8 GB)
Cumulative Score (243 possible points)

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